Digital Marketing: An Easy to Understand Guide


When people hear the term “digital marketing”, they often think only of social media platforms. While these marketing channels are definitely in the digital marketing mix, they’re not the only ones. 

Let’s first define digital marketing. According to the American Marketing Association,

“digital marketing refers to any marketing methods conducted through electronic devices. This includes online marketing efforts conducted on the internet. In the process of conducting digital marketing, a business might leverage websites, search engines, blogs, social media, video, email and similar channels to reach customers.” This definition includes what I like to call the  digital marketing ecosystem. 

What’s in the digital marketing ecosystem?

These are the core types of digital marketing around which to plan a digital marketing strategy: 

  • Website / landing pages
    • Search engine optimization (SEO)
    • Search engine marketing (SEM)
    • Pay-per-click (PPC)
  • Content marketing
    • Blogs
    • Video content
    • Downloadable resources
    • Photos and visuals
  • Social media marketing
    • Social ads
  • Email marketing
  • Online advertising
    • Digital ads 
    • Pay-per-click (PPC)

What is the role of digital marketing? 

The digital marketing process starts with determining goals. Are the marketing efforts focused on building brand awareness? Generating and nurturing leads? Increasing conversions? Increasing sales? Increasing website traffic? Be sure the goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely — SMART goals.

For B2B companies, goals tend to be centered around lead generation and lead nurturing. Prospective clients are drawn in via content or inbound marketing and the sales cycle is typically longer. Marketing efforts lead prospects to eventually have a conversation with a member of the sales team. In B2C companies, digital marketing goals are focused on leading the customer through the buyer’s journey as quickly as possible resulting in a purchase. Marketing efforts lead buyers from website visit to sale via CTAs (calls-to-action) and drip email campaigns

After goals have been determined, an overall digital marketing strategy or plan is mapped out. Digital marketing campaigns are the building blocks by which the overall marketing plan is achieved. 

How does the digital marketing process start? 

In the customer journey, awareness of your brand is the first step. When consumers begin research to make purchases, where do they typically start? By doing a search online via Google or another search engine. The results serve up websites or other online properties which match their search terms or keywords. This starting point is where you can take proactive steps to help consumers become aware of your brand. 

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a method of improving your ranking among search results. The higher you rank, the more visible you are to a consumer. SEO best practices include optimizing for keywords and search terms. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is paid advertising to rank higher in search results. SEM may be used together with SEO to increase visibility in search results and drive traffic to a company’s website. If you’ve taken all the appropriate steps to optimize your site, your brand can rank high among the organic results. It’s not a guarantee which is why many brands take advantage of a mix of SEO and SEM efforts. 

Content marketing is another avenue which contributes to SEO efforts and by which a brand may be found. What is content marketing? The use of content to educate, inform, and draw in potential clients or buyers. This includes blogs, articles, videos, podcasts, social media posts, webinars, downloadable resources, etc. Using content can lead prospective customers to take a desired action, such as exchanging their email address for a resource or to receive a product discount. To develop the right content marketing strategy, draw upon the SMART goals which were established. 

What role does social media play in content marketing? Social media posts can distribute and share content. Social media posts can direct prospects to where you want them to go online. Deciding the channels on which to have a presence depends on who the company wants to reach and connect with. Social media channels, such as Facebook, enable people to build a relationship with a brand. In the buyer’s journey, social media brings awareness of a brand as well as nurture consideration. Further in the journey, social media is a useful tool for brand advocacy.

A company is able to run ads on social media networks for not only brand awareness but also for targeting specific audiences. Most companies will have the Facebook pixel installed on their site. When a prospective customer visits the website and leaves, the pixel enables retargeting via ads in their social feed. Websites typically have cookies installed so that the companies can benefit from targeted online advertising. Their ads are served to potential customers as they move around on the internet visiting other websites.

While visiting a website, an offer for a discount may be made to the potential customer in exchange for their email address. The site visitor gives the company their email address and chooses to opt in to receive messages. The potential customer then receives a series of emails designed to lead them through the buyer’s journey and get to the end goal of a purchase. Or in the B2B space, a piece of content or other resource is offered in exchange for contact information. This begins the lead nurturing process with the end goal of a closed sale. 

Each piece of the digital marketing puzzle fits together to make a whole digital marketing strategy which meets a company’s marketing and sales objectives. It’s a digital marketer’s responsibility to determine the right mix which will achieve campaign and overall marketing goals. Along the way, the mix may have to be revised or course-corrected after reviewing metrics and data. This is the beauty of digital marketing — data and metrics are readily available to guide decisions and planning. “Old-school” offline marketing couldn’t offer this. Not only can ROI be determined more accurately, missteps are less costly because the strategy can be revised mid-campaign rather than waiting for results after it’s all said and done. Digital marketing can be effective for any business in any vertical. 

Digital Marketing Example

Ansley needs a new vacuum cleaner that cleans not only her carpeting but also works well for her hardwood floors. She searches on Google by typing, “vacuum cleaner for carpet and hardwood floors” and “best vacuum cleaner for carpet and hardwood floor.” ABC Vacuum Cleaner Company is served up at the top of her search results due to their SEO. Ansley clicks on the link which directs her to their website. She looks at a couple of their products and decides she needs to do further research. 

Part of her research is asking for recommendations from friends and family on her social media. Ansley goes to Facebook to post that she needs recommendations. While scrolling through her Facebook feed, she sees ads for the specific products she had viewed on ABC’s website. In fact, the ads have an offer of a 10% discount. She clicks on the ad and is led to a landing page which asks for her email address to send her the discount code. Ansley shares her email address. She receives the 10% discount code as promised. She also begins receiving carefully timed email messages in a sequence, crafted to lead her through the buying process. 

After doing additional research and visiting other vacuum cleaner companies’ sites, Ansley feels confident that she has enough information to make a purchase. She buys from ABC because they’ve educated her about all the product features (through the email marketing drip campaign) and offered free shipping. ABC’s goal was met by converting a prospective buyer.